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The Delaware Comprehensive Sickle Cell Research Center team members from Nemours and DSU. Third from right, seated, is principal investigator Marie Stuart, MD.
The Nemours Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in collaboration with Delaware State University (DSU) has received a $10.2 million, five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the genetic mutation that causes sickle cell disease and to improve care and outcomes for affected children. The project, designated a NIH Center of Biomedical Research Excellence (COBRE) award, establishes the Delaware Comprehensive Sickle Cell Research Center. The principal investigator is Marie Stuart, MD, director of Hematology Research at Nemours.
A genetic disorder of the red blood cells, sickle cell disease is a chronic and potentially debilitating disease of childhood which, in its severe form, can affect multiple organ systems and ultimately shorten the life span. Many patients face barriers that may impact quality of care and health outcomes. The grant is focused on prevention of symptoms associated with sickle cell disease, strong psychosocial support for families, studying the quality of care provided, and identifying genetic approaches to treatment and cure. The DSU share of the grant is $1.8 million; Nemours’ share is $8.4 million.
As a children’s health network, Nemours is poised to become a national leader in sickle cell research. This, the second COBRE grant awarded to Nemours, aims to train the next generation of sickle cell researchers. Target investigators include Robin Miller, MD and Steven Reader, PhD from Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children, and Dula Man, PhD from Delaware State University. Dr. Miller’s project, under the mentorship of Dr. Stuart, involves a clinical trial on the use of n-3 omega fatty acids for relief of pain and inflammation associated with sickle cell disease. Dr. Reader’s project with Nemours mentor Anne Kazak, PhD, will modify the psychosocial assessment tool developed by Dr. Kazak to screen for risk in the pediatric population with sickle cell disease.
Dr. Man’s work in the laboratory will manipulate the affected sickle red cell by a novel process of gene editing in an attempt to correct the abnormal hemoglobin in the red cell without harming other cell functions. Eric Kmiec, PhD, DSU professor of chemistry, will mentor Dr. Man. Cherese Winstead, PhD, DSU assistant professor of chemistry and chair of the Department of Chemistry, will work on another project involving the growth of hematopoietic stem cells on multilayer nanofiber scaffolds.
The grant also includes a three-year pilot study by Divya Moodalbail, MD, of Nemours, whose research will try to identify children most at risk for developing sickle cell-related chronic kidney disease, an initial step in preventing or slowing the progression of long-term kidney damage.
Finally, in the important realm of data management, E. Anders Kolb, MD, director, Nemours Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, and co-investigator, David West, MD will work to link advances in health informatics and electronic data recording with clinical research to improve patient outcomes.
“This federal support will ensure an outstanding program to meet the ongoing needs of Delaware’s children and young adults with sickle cell disease and their families. It is a tribute to the excellence of the team in what is an extremely competitive funding environment,” said Vicky Funanage, PhD, operational vice president, Nemours Biomedical Research.
“This is a positive effort to enhance biomedical research in the region,” said Noureddine Melikechi, DPhil, dean of the DSU College of Mathematics, Natural Sciences and Technology and vice president for Research, Innovation and Economic Development. “It is the result of many years of interaction between scientists at DSU, Nemours and other institutions in Delaware. It is bound to raise the research and educational portfolio in the state.”